Known as the “Painter of Light,” Thomas Kinkade was one of America’s most collected living artists for decades until his untimely passing at the age of 54.
Kinkade once said he had something in common with Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell: He wanted to make people happy. Kinkade’s idyllic, fairy tale-like cottages and landscapes exist in a world of beauty, intrigue, and adventure.
His paintings and limited-edition works continue to adorn more than 10 million homes across the world.
Thomas Kinkade was born on January 19, 1958 in Sacramento County, California, and grew up in the small town of Placerville. Kinkade used his artistic gift as a way to communicate and spread life-affirming values. He wanted his art to be accessible to anyone and everyone, regardless of their artistic background or faith.
“Art transcends cultural boundaries,” Kinkade said.
Kinkade was mentored by his neighbor, a retired professor from the Art Department at University of California at Berkeley, Glenn Wessels. It was Wessels who encouraged Kinkade to attend the University of California at Berkeley and, in 1976, after graduating from high school, Kinkade took Wessels’ advice. Two years later, Kinkade transferred from UC Berkeley to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
Kinkade was perpetually short on money and never graduated college, yet he managed to save enough to spend $400 at Moe’s, a popular used bookstore in Berkeley, so he could study master painters. One of Kinkade’s artistic heroes was Pop artist Andy Warhol, but Kinkade wanted his own art to affirm social values instead of challenging them.
In 1980, Kinkade spent the summer on a cross-country sketching tour with a college friend, James Gurney. They ended their journey in New York and produced a best-selling instructional book, “The Artist’s Guide to Sketching.”
The popularity of the book landed Kinkade and Gurney a job at Ralph Bakshi Studios, where they produced background art for the 1983 animated feature film, “Fire and Ice.” Around this time, Kinkade began exploring the characteristics of light in pictorial space and creating imaginative worlds. It was during this period he acquired his moniker, the “Painter of Light.”
In 1982, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart, Nanette and, two years later, they began to publish his paintings as graphic works. The couple had four daughters—Merritt, Winsor, Everett, and Chandler—all named after famous artists.
Kinkade created paintings and graphic works simultaneously, offering his originals to galleries throughout California. From 1984 to 1989, he took on the pseudonym “Robert Girrard” in order to experiment with his style, using the techniques of French Impressionists and painted several hundred paintings under that name.
By the mid-1990s, his paintings had become wildly popular. Kinkade’s artwork proved to be so desired that, at the time, he sold more canvases than any other artist in world history. According to some accounts, he has sold more canvases than Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Rembrandt van Rijn, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso combined.
Kinkade unexpectedly died on April 6, 2012, but left behind a legacy of light loved by millions worldwide. His devoted fans remember him for the warmth and joy his paintings have brought into their lives.
Thomas Kinkade painted magical imagery that included nature scenes, bucolic gardens, cottages, sports, inspirational tableaus, lighthouses, powerful seascapes, impressionistic cityscapes, and American icons.
Kinkade’s works all share similar characteristics: whimsical and slightly surreal pastels and an ethereal sense of light. His Placerville home serves as the inspiration for many of his scenes involving streetscapes and snow.
As a self-described devout Christian, each of Kinkade’s works project an image of Christian values. He referred to himself as a “warrior for light,” using light to represent a divine presence within each of his works—a traditional painting technique from the Middle Ages. Through light, Kinkade aimed to drive away the darkness that many people feel, bringing warmth and happiness into their homes.
“What I paint touches on foundational life values—home, family, peacefulness,” Kinkade said. “One of the messages I try to constantly get across is, ‘Slow it down and enjoy every moment.’”
If people viewed one of Kinkade’s half-finished paintings, they would have been surprised to find dark and gloomy elements. This is because Kinkade painted multiple layers of dark glaze across his canvases as the first step. According to his book, “Lightposts for Living,” Kinkade believed these dark layers were necessary.
“Dark layers are what will give the work its depth; they will make the windows and the streetlights and even the sun seem to glow from within instead of being dabbed on the surface,” Kinkade wrote. “Because of the darkness, the light I add has more impact.”
Kinkade left “love notes” in his paintings by hiding the letter “N” as a tribute to his wife, Nanette. His four daughters also had their own messages of love from their father, as their names and images often appear in many of his paintings.